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Turner v. Jonas – What’s the End Goal?

Hot take coming in… I don’t think Sophie Turner filed her Petition for the Immediate Return of the Minor Children to England to actually return the children to England immediately.

Based on Turner’s filings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which plainly states the relief she seeks – I am reading between the lines of all the he-said-she-said allegations, Turner’s petition is written for the media but more importantly, Turner’s petition is written to spark controversy in jurisdiction – Florida, New York, or England.

Pushing back on the jurisdiction of the Florida courts, where Jonas only recently filed divorce, by filing in New York (properly where the daughters are found) and announcing in that petition the intent to file in England for custody – Turner’s filing appears to be less about wining the battle for the return of the children now in order to advance in the war for custody and return the children to England eventually.

While the difference in objective is subtle, it is critical. The legal interplay of the prima facie (foundational) case Turner must first prove and the defenses which will be raised by Jonas before a Court determines what and where the minor children may go is complex. But, what strikes a cord that the motivation is less about the legal interplay in the question at the heart of Hague Petitions is that Turner did not attach any exhibits to her Petition. Not one!

While that may not be so odd in other family-styled lawsuits such as divorce and custody, it is incredibly interesting and risky here – unless the goal truly isn’t to have the children returned immediately to England, but is rather to demand an analysis of jurisdiction for their daughters in a ‘neutral’ court. Given the nature of Turner’s allegation that the children’s new habitual residence was established in Warwickshire, England is rooted in the parties’ consent and their actions towards that cause, failing to cite to any evidence of documents that support the she-said-he-said claim of consent is surprising. It’s even shocking.

Congress, when codifying the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, cemented an strategic advantage to every petitioner. 22 U.S.C. § 9005 permits all information and documents attached to petitions for the return of children to be admissible -even without authentication. You attach it. It comes in. Period.

Turner’s Petition could have been, should have been laden with every text or email between she and Jonas about house hunting; flight itinerary from their travels between Florida, New York, London, and Italy; the receipts related to shipping their children’s personal items overseas; and documents related to research on school enrollment. The things you do, the documents you create, the markers you lay down when you take these steps are endless. They should have been attached.

It isn’t too late for Turner to amend and skip the hurdle that trial would bring for her in authenticating each piece of evidence that could be persuasive of she and Jonas’ joint intent and execution of that intent to change the children’s habitual residence; but, it is very interesting that Turner skipped that part amidst the height of public and media scrutiny and interest in the couple’s Florida divorce. Was that a choice? And if so, what does that mean?

Only time will tell.

Jess Lill